By James Eze
Among all black people on God’s earth, the Nigerian is probably the closest archetype of the black race. He has some of the finest qualities that inspire racial pride among all black people. He also has some of the worst strains of the tragic flaws that have held his race in captivity for centuries.
The Nigerian presents a fascinating specimen for interesting inquiry. Like most species on the planet, he does not lend himself to easy dissection, analysis and understanding. He is intriguing, engaging and nuanced. He is like a clove; one layer covers a far more puzzling layer…a remarkable specimen. While he shares these attributes with most human species in far-flung geographies, there are certain attributes that appear peculiar to him. To understand these attributes, we must first examine the Nigerian mind.
Unlike most Africans, the Nigerian sees himself as a born winner – he approaches life with a healthy dose of optimism; he believes that he will “make it.” Not for him, the dispiriting question of “how?” Not for him too, the painstaking drudgery of meticulous plans indicating a step by step approach to the doors of success over time. He loves the use of his instinct and his faith. He knows instinctively that he will make it and he has the backing of his faith as proof. He does not live every day of his life agonizing over his deficit situation. He believes that it would change for the better; that some supernatural power was bound to upturn the present configuration of his reality and foist a new and happier order on him.
This might sound like superstition; but for the Nigerian, it is faith – something infinitely munificent and kind; the ray of light that must always force its way through thick, ravenous clouds to cast a beam on his strivings or what young Nigerians popularly call “hussle or hustle”.
This does not in any way imply that the Nigerian is lazy, or that having accepted that God rules in the affairs of men, he would relapse into inactivity and allow faith absolute control of his life. No. On the contrary, faith is important in his worldview, only to the extent that his efforts need a divine illumination to attract any form of success.
He is hardly daunted by the seeming impossibility of the odds that stack high against him. He is inclined to look beyond the minor indignities of the moment, the little setbacks which he sees as necessary rite of passage to a more appointed time. The Nigerian has infinite capacity for self-renewal and hope. What he lacks is the patient organization required to chisel out a long term plan. He lives his life one day at a time. Sadly, it is the weaknesses in these attributes that the Nigerian leader; always unaffected by the misery of his environment, exploits in a single-minded ambition to put his own people to the metaphorical sword.
Now, the Nigerian mind is one of God’s most active battlefields of ideas. It throbs with an assortment of schemes and dreams. Some so outlandish and gargantuan they have no chance of a flitting life while some tug viciously on the shirtsleeves of our lived experience. Whatever idea brews in the Nigerian mind, it is not as important as the fact that it is never idle.
The Nigerian mind is in constant motion, grinding out as much redemptive as criminal stratagems. It is the real smithy where devious ideas of political duplicity are hatched. It is also the birthplace of the virulent schemes that have led to scandalous financial crimes and other vices that astonish the world. Within it also nestles the convoluted home of incendiary religious beliefs and radical thinking that have lately added a new macabre chapter to our collective outrage. So far, it may be debatable but not many great ideas have been credited to the Nigerian mind.
Interestingly, the Nigerian imagination is different. The imagination is that part of the mind that is responsible for generating images or pictures in a meaningful and sustained sequence to form a pattern or a unit of thought. It is the seat of all literary and artistic expression, the theater of all creative reverie and artistic space shuttles that expand our vision of the universe. While the Nigerian mind is intriguing, the Nigerian imagination is fascinating.
In known history, the Nigerian imagination is perhaps one part of our collective heritage that has brought us the most pride. The Nigerian has a most febrile imagination. The realm of the imagination is possibly one of the few realms where the Nigerian mind stands on equal pedestal with its peers from around the world. This accounts for our literary and artistic dominance of Africa and our ambitious forays into the larger world. It also explains the forceful emergence of our pop culture; the exploding music, comedy and movie scenes and of course the continuing widening of the entertainment space. It is not fortuitous that the Nigerian artistic performer has continued to grow in confidence in his ambition to take over the world music scene in the last ten years. The imagination is his favourite turf and he is naturally pre-disposed to excel in it.
Indeed, the Nigerian is prepared for his times. Unlike his fellow Africans from the South and the East of the Sahara, his colonial experience is different. British colonialism in some parts of Nigeria was as turbulent as the waters of Lagos Bar-beach. Apart from the treachery of the tropical weather and the deadly bites of the anopheles mosquitoes, there were other experiences that made Nigeria less amenable to colonialism than the soils of the Southern and Eastern Africa. It is not clear whether the relatively short-lived colonial experiment in Nigeria is behind it all but what is known is that the Nigerian is seemingly naturally imbued with a certain streak of fearlessness that is not found in other Africans. It is not necessarily bravery; but a state of being which makes him to see himself just as good as any other human being around him.
The self-reductionist Bwana syndrome of the Southern part of Africa has no place in his world. A famous writer friend of mine once told me about a certain Briton who had asked him a curious question about the uppity of Nigerians. According to him, the Briton had asked him to explain why out of all Africans he had encountered in his extensive trips on the continent, Nigerians were the only ones who could look the white man straight in the eyes while having a conversation with him. Nigerians are not easy to cow. It matters little that our country is badly run and that most stories out of Nigeria are usually negative. The default position of his mental attitude assures him that he is okay. It is this self-assurance that other Africans adjudge as arrogance and vehemently resent.
Ironically, the Nigerian who carries a great self-esteem and sees himself as capable of any great accomplishment does not think highly of his political leader. For most Nigerians, the Nigerian political leader is probably from another planet. It does not matter that the best among us transmogrify into a ghouls once they find themselves in leadership positions. Gone are the days when the Nigerian leader was an outright imposition, wrought on us by the fabled Kaduna Mafia or the vampire conclave in the Caliphate. Increasingly, Nigerians are beginning to repossess their country. Nevertheless, if there’s anything that Nigerians are likely going to have a consensus on, it is in the gross incompetence of their political leaders.
Another one is the almost unanimous belief that anywhere else on God’s green earth is better than Nigeria. Smart as the Nigerian imagines himself to be, he has yet to figure out how to engage with Nigeria. He blames the political leaders for everything and fancies life in neighbouring Ghana or even Benin Republic as a preferred experience.
Curiously though, the Nigerian would be more amenable to listen to excuses for the failings of a political leader at the federal level if they are from the same tribe or town. Blood is still thicker than water among us. Indeed, tribal considerations still influence our social and cultural transactions and the concept of truth or a generally admissible code of conduct for public servants are often interpreted through a tribal prism.
Again, part of the intrigue that marks the Nigerian mind out is the near absence of heroes in his universe. A typical Nigerian hero occupies a very short spell in the vast stretch of eternity. This is probably why the loud celebration of Emeka Ojukwu’s recent passage took many Nigerians by surprise. We have a short memory of our heroes, where they exist at all. Extra-ordinary as Gani Fawehinmi was, the nation did not experience a deep sense of loss when he passed. News of his death did not touch raw nerves outside of South Western Nigeria. Our football stars are heroes so long as their careers are firmly on track. No enthusiasm marks an encounter with any retired footballer on the streets, no matter how great he once was. Our Nollywood stars are more celebrated across Africa than Nigeria. The uproar that followed Chinua Achebe’s comments on Chief Obafemi Awolowo in, There was a Country, was more for tribal sensibilities than any continuing reverence to the late sage as a hero.
And now, picture this – in 2014, Nigeria would have been in existence for 100 years. Isn’t it interesting that almost one hundred years after the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates, Nigeria is yet to produce one man or woman whose life inspires awe and reverence across tribal lines. What we have had are largely tribal heroes whose imports are limited to provincial enclaves. No one has yet to bestraddle the ethnic chasms that separate us.
In all, the Nigerian mind is a fascinating workstation of astonishing possibilities; spewing as much brilliance as darkness, inspiring as much awe and reverence as fear and resentment. Perhaps, there may be no better take off point in the enquiry for the answer to the Nigerian question than a close scrutiny of the Nigerian mind. It just might offer us a window to the Nigerian world.